Wednesday, March 23, 2011

War footing: Israel braces for flare-up as Gazan rockets hit

Palestinian rockets struck two cities deep in Israel on Wednesday, wounding a resident and prompting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to threaten lengthy "exchanges of blows" with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Islamic Jihad, a smaller Gaza faction and occasional Hamas ally, claimed responsibility for the attacks on Beersheba and Ashdod.

They followed Israeli air strikes and shelling in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday that killed four Palestinian civilians, including three children playing football, and five militants, medical officials said.

Netanyahu, who voiced regret for Tuesday's civilian deaths and said Israel sought no escalation, took a tougher tone after some members of his cabinet mooted a wider offensive on Gaza.

Israel's three-week war in the impoverished coastal enclave in 2009 killed about 1,400 Palestinians, drawing heavy international censure. Hamas had mostly held fire since.

"No country would be prepared to absorb protracted missile fire on its cities and civilians, and of course the State of Israel is not prepared to," Netanyahu said in parliament.

"It could be that this matter will entail exchanges of blows, and it may take a certain period of time, but we are very determined to strike at the terrorist elements and deny them the means of attacking our citizens," he said, according to a transcript issued by his office. (read more)